data science

How to Get a Data Analyst Job

Data Analysts use data to answer questions about the state of an organization’s business. Since data is stored in computer systems, a Data Analyst needs to be comfortable with technology. Data Analysts investigate data problems and be able to communicate their findings. Sound like a good job? Read on to learn how to get a data analyst job.

This is a good job for people who are Investigative on the Holland Scale. If you are a problem solver and like to think things through then this may be the job for you. My Holland Code is ISE (Investigative, Social, Enterprising) and I have found data analysis to be a good fit in many ways.

Insider’s View

I think of data analysis as programming-lite. You only need to master a subset of tools compared to what a software engineer would need. Understanding statistics and how data works is just as important as technology for data analysts. Interpreting charts and survey results and mastering the tools that create these products is key to your success as an analyst.

I have about 15 years of experience in data analysis and related roles. It’s a good job with professional perks and salary. The median salary is around $68,000 for mid-level positions. This seems a little low to me based on my experience but it likely varies based on location and industry.

Education Requirements for Data Analyst Jobs

You should have a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field to get a data analyst job. For the purposes of data analysis, STEM includes fields like Psychology that require statistics. Some data analysis jobs will require a master’s degree in an analytical field.

The two core skills that you need are programming and scientific thinking. Basically, you need to be an evidence-based person who can think critically. Don’t count yourself out if you are a Literature major though, this is one of those jobs that makes a good career pivot.

Essential Skills for Data Analysis Jobs

Excel is the one technology skill that is absolutely essential for an entry-level data analyst. I have met data analysts that have never used any other tool. You have probably used this app already. Become an expert in Excel spreadsheets, especially if you have no other programming skills. The quickest way to get a data analyst job is to master Excel.

SQL is almost as essential as Excel. If you plan on working in Big Data SQL is crucial. SQL is the programming language for databases. You use SQL to extract datasets from an organization’s database. Usually, the first step of a data analysis project is locating data and using SQL to pull that data out of the database to be analyzed. Here are my basic SQL notes that you can use to get introduced to the language.

Once you master Excel and SQL, you will eventually want to learn a statistical programming language. SAS, Fortran, R, Python, Matlab, and SPSS are popular choices. Programming languages like these have more features for statistics and data visualization than SQL. After all, SQL is only used to directly work with databases.

Most people choose to specialize in the statistical programming language that is used in the workplace. If you are in a position to choose what to learn yourself, I suggest Python.

Python is a general-purpose programming language that included packages specifically for data analysis. Other languages like SAS, R, and Matlab are exclusively designed to work with statistics. Learning Python gives you a better grounding in programming and it also opens up more opportunities to leverage your coding skills in web design, automation, cloud services, and more.

Data Analyst Nice to Have Skills

Excel, SQL, and a statistical programming language are essential skills for a data analyst.

Learning a dash-boarding tool such as Tableau or PowerBI will help you. These tools are used to create self-service data visualizations for clients. So, instead of making plots in Excel or Python every time the CEO needs information, you create a dashboard. Now anyone can get the reports they need without your direct help.

Git and GitHub are being used more often by Data Science teams. These tools are used to help teams collaborate and keep track of changes made to code. Git can be complicated at first, so it makes sense to spend some time learning this tool.

Consider getting certified in cloud services like AWS or Azure. Cloud services are used when you need to work with very BIG data. Being good at this stuff pushes you closer to the realm of an engineer. I would not focus on this unless you are an expert at the previous skills and want to move up to a more technical role.

Where to Start?

Make sure that you really are a good fit for a data analyst job. If you gravitate toward technology, research, and data then you probably are. You can take self-assessment tests like the Holland Code Assessment or you can take something like StrengthFinder. If you keep coming up with attributes like Investigative, Analytical, and Strategic then you are on the right path.

Assess your education level. Most data analysts have a Bachelor’s degree. This fact makes data analysis a good choice for people who majored in topics that are not career friendly. Non-STEM majors should consider taking a statistics or research methods class. You can do this at a local community college, online, or online with Data Camp.

Assess your skill level. You could get a job just by learning Excel and a little bit of SQL. Increasing your skills will increase your odds of landing that job. Here is what I would focus on:

  • Excel
  • Basic SQL
  • Intermediate SQL
  • Data Exploration *
  • Tableau
  • Python
  • Git
  • Data Science Topics *

I added Data Exploration and Data Science topics here even though they are not strictly tech skills. For people who do not have a research background, these will get you into the mindset of thinking like a data analyst. You can Google these topics or learn them at Data Camp.

Get experience. If you are completely entry-level, work on some pet-projects and save your work in GitHub. Do this once you learn Excel and some SQL and pace yourself. You will be happy to have these projects to show to future employers

Do the usual job-searching activities: make sure to have a resume that shows off any data related skills that you have. Network. Go to data meetups in your town. Use LinkedIn. Start applying to jobs.

Does Data Analysis seem like a good choice to you? Do you have any questions about how to land a data analyst role or what it is like to work as an analyst? Comment below and I will answer everything that I can.

Matt has worked as a data analyst, writer, counselor, and business owner for a total of 20 years. Since the start of his career he's been fascinated by technology and passionate about helping people use modern technology to hack their work and their lives.

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